How A Former Nigerian Chemist Built A Multi-Million Dollar International Trading Firm
There is no such thing as a lack of opportunity, and there is no limitation to the possibility of a person’s success, no matter of far away they are from home in a foreign land.
This is the success story of Kase Lukman Lawal, the founder of CAMAC International, a multi-million dollar commodity trading giant with headquarters in the United States of America.
Here is how he did it.
The Early Life And Education Of Kase Lukman Lawal
Kase Lukman Lawal is a Nigerian-born businessman who lives and works in the United States of America. He was born on June 30th, 1954 in Ibadan. His father was a politician, while his mother was a textile trader.
Prior to his sojourn to the United States, Lawal was well aware of the civil rights struggles in the country and was undeterred by it. He was fascinated and wanted to be a part of it. His father was also aware of these issues and, fearing for Kase’s ability to adapt to the American culture, was strongly opposed to his son’s immigration to the country.
Kase Lukman Lawal finally made his way to the United States while his siblings furthered their education in the United Kingdom. He arrived in the country in 1972 and initially enrolled as a chemical engineering major at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
He soon switched to Houston’s Texas Southern University where he earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry and graduated in 1976.
Then he continued his education at Prairie View A&M University of Texas, where he earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in finance and marketing in 1978.
His Early Career
Upon completion of his education, Kase Lukman Lawal joined Dresser Industries (now Halliburton) as a chemist. From there, he joined Shell Oil Refining Co where he worked as a chemical engineer. He then moved to Suncrest Investment Corporation where he was the vice president from 1980 to 1982. He was also president of Baker Kase Investments, a real estate mortgage and investment company.
Journey To Entrepreneurship
In 1986, Kase Lukman Lawal made a move to establish his own venture after meeting a mathematics professor from Cameroon who was conducting a feasibility study for a cigarette manufacturing plant in Cameroon.
At the time, products being exported from the United States to Cameroon were routed through France, partly due to old colonial ties and mostly because France had a tradition of financing Cameroonian import initiatives.
Kase’s strategy was to cut out the middleman (France) and route the tobacco directly from the United States to Africa. He engaged the American tobacco producers and the Cameroon processing company directly and financed a deal that allowed the tobacco to go straight from the farms in the US to the African processing plant.
The Rise OF CAMAC
CAMAC Holdings—short for Cameroon American—stemmed out of the move to ship tobacco to Cameroon. Focusing on international agricultural trade, mostly between the United States and Africa, CAMAC was an early success.
The key was local partnerships. “We add financing and technical expertise, and they provide political landscape experience, relationships, and credibility,” Kase Lukman Lawal told Forbes in an interview.
After three years of running CAMAC Holdings as an agricultural firm, Kase met with a greater opportunity. Through a link in Houston’s Rotary club, Rilwanu Lukman, who was at the time the president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Kase Lukman Lawal was encouraged to invest in the oil business and shift his focus from agriculture.
The Focus On Oil
Nigeria as a country had begun to produce oil in 1958 and was only thirty years into the industry. The country’s oil resources were barely tapped then and only a few oil giants of the time had invested in the exploration of crude oil in the country.
Kase Lukman Lawal saw this as a great opportunity but lacked sufficient funds to invest in this industry fully. However, he didn’t stop due to this limitation but went ahead to form Allied Nigeria and secure oil production rights to large tracts of land in the country. He ensured this by capitalizing on his contacts in Nigeria.
His next move was to find a suitable investor, and after meeting with 19 prospects, he chose to partner with Conoco Phillips in 1991. According to Forbes, the joint venture between the oil giant and Lawal’s firm helped pump over $500 million into Nigeria over the next decade. It also proved very successful, and as late as 2002, was still producing over 20,000 barrels of oil per day. The partnership launched several oil exploration projects in Angola as well.
In 2003, CAMAC broadened its scope and delved into production and energy trading by purchasing an oil refinery. Until that time CAMAC had been mostly limited to oil exploration and production.
“We used to produce oil and rely on someone to sell it,” Lawal said in an interview. “We decided that we could get contracts, and assemble a risk management team that could deal with the volatility of selling oil and gas.”
This move increased the company’s turnover so greatly that it was ranked number one in 2002 and 2003 on Black Enterprise Magazine’s prestigious list of the top 100 black-owned firms in America.
CAMAC Holdings had offices throughout the world and employed over 1,000 people.
Kase Lukman Lawal’s success has spurred him to help open up the lucrative oil business—a traditionally white, male-dominated industry—to other people of colour. “I want to encourage more blacks to get involved in the oil industry as entrepreneurs,” he told Black Enterprise.
Recognition And Awards
- Port of Houston Authority (commissioner and vice-chairman)
- United States Trade Advisory Committee on Africa
- Houston Mayoral Advisory Board on International Affairs and Development (chairman)
- Board of Directors, Houston Airport System Development Corporation (vice-chairman)
- Greater Houston Partnership (board member)
- Ernst & Young, Entrepreneur of the Year, finalist, 1994
- USAfrica Community Service and Business Leadership Awards, Business Person of the Year, 1997
- Center for Black Business History, Entrepreneurship, and Technology, Texas Black Business Hall of Fame, 2003
- Prairie View Texas A&M University, Distinguished Business Leader Award, 2003
Kase Lukman Lawal has used his success to help others through philanthropic gifts both at home and in Africa. He and his wife, Eileen, who shares 80% ownership of CAMAC with him, have been particularly generous with educational programs. In 1992, they established the Petroleum Engineering Endowment at the University of Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering.
The $600,000 gift helps graduate petroleum engineering students.
In 2003, the couple pledged $1 million to Texas Southern University to create the Kase and Eileen Lawal Center for International Business Development.
The Lawals also regularly appear on the Houston social circuit, chairing and attending many fundraising events.
Kase Lukman Lawal has also worked hard to promote cultural exchanges between Africa and the United States. For several years, CAMAC has sponsored the Houston International Festival which celebrates ethnic food, art, and cultures from around the world. The company has also supported performances of groups as diverse as the Drummers of Burundi and The Dance Theatre of Harlem.
The Lawals and CAMAC have also contributed millions of dollars to programs aimed at improving the health and welfare of African people. They have supported everything from orphanages to local schools. However, the bulk of their contributions have gone to fund HIV/AIDS research, prevention, and services.
“I have a responsibility to the continent of Africa,” Kase Lukman Lawal told Forbes. “I believe that in any small way I can, having been trained and given opportunities in the United States, I want to make a difference.”
To Sum It Up
Growth can happen regardless of one’s location.
In life, you must take opportunities as they come and the be able to make the most of them wherever you are.
Kase Lukman Lawal was able to identify and exploit the opportunities in the Agric sector and also the oil sector without merely just talking.
As Richard Branson once said, “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes then learn how to do it later.”